House passes anti-terrorism compromise
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- The House gave overwhelming approval Wednesday to a compromise anti-terrorism bill giving police new power to secretly search the homes of terrorism suspects, tap all their phones and track their use of the Internet.
The bill passed 357-66. It was to be taken up by the Senate later in the day or Thursday with the idea of getting it to President Bush for a possible Friday signing at the White House.
"The House is taking a responsible step forward by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to secure the safety of Americans while protecting our constitutional rights," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said after the vote.
Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been calling for the legislation since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but civil liberty and privacy concerns by House and Senate members have delayed the legislation.
But lawmakers reached a compromise last week on Bush's legislation, which would expand the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishments of terrorists.
"This landmark legislation will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies additional tools that are needed to address the threat of terrorism and to find and prosecute terrorist criminals," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Some House members say the bill gives the government too much power. They complained about House leaders dumping a GOP-Democratic compromise approved unanimously by the committee in favor of the modified Senate version.
"This is one of the most important measures that we will determine ... because it is anti-terrorist legislation that expands the law in many directions," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., added: "It's not just limited to terrorism. Had it been limited to terrorism, this bill could have passed three or four weeks ago without much discussion."
There still may be a snag in the Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has threatened to block final approval because of a compromise that Senate negotiators made to get House approval.
The original Senate bill tinkered with a law known as the McDade amendment. It prevents federal prosecutors from using investigative techniques such as wiretaps or undercover stings that are disallowed under ethics rules enforced by state and local bar associations but not barred by federal law.
The Senate fix would loosen the McDade amendment, named for former Rep. Joe McDade of Pennsylvania, whose reputation was clouded by an eight-year racketeering case before he won acquittal in 1996.
Wyden wants the fix put back into the anti-terrorism bill. He and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., say implementing such a restrictive rule in their state had disastrous results for law enforcement.
By Senate custom, any senator can block a bill, at least temporarily. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., could override the block.
The Senate's McDade compromise wasn't the only one made during negotiations on the anti-terrorism bill.
The Justice Department gave up on its demands that the new laws immediately become permanent, a major loss for the Bush administration. The administration ultimately decided that having the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portion of the terrorism legislation expire at the end of 2005 was better than having no new laws at all.
The Republican-controlled House gave up its insistence that money-laundering legislation be passed separately and not with the anti-terrorism legislation. But Senate leaders repeatedly threatened to scuttle the bill if the money-laundering provisions were taken out, and House leaders relented.
They also dumped a provision, sought by some House members, that would have prohibited the use of credit cards or checks for illegal Internet gambling. Law enforcement authorities have identified Internet gambling as a means for money laundering.
On Tuesday, the House:
--Required registration of all researchers using biological agents or toxins and made unregistered possession a felony, regardless of intent. It would also become a federal crime to use biological agents in a way that shows reckless disregard for public safety.
--Passed legislation authorizing the Treasury Department to issue the first war bonds since World War II.
--Voted to make it easier for students called up to active duty in the military to pay off their college loans.